Someone came up with a brilliant idea. Hey, why don’t we charge money for public toilets?
The reasoning is that by charging for bathrooms, the only people who will use them are people who actually have to go. Cut down on public sex, drug use, and raise money for the city all in one go!
Except this is just another example of how often the rights of the disabled are trampled over in the interest of “the greater good”.
What’s the big deal? It’s just a bathroom? If you can’t afford to use it, just wait till you get home?
Bathroom use is one of those interesting issues. On the surface we know that it effects everyone. One of the most recognized books in toilet training is literally called Everybody Poops. We don’t need to be socially convinced that people need access to washrooms. Where we make mistakes is in taking bathroom access for granted.
For the average person, if you need to use the bathroom, it is just a matter of finding one. You are able to devote a bit of time to looking for one, and if it takes a little while to find it, you are able to hold it in until you do. Chances are you have a restroom in your home and/or at work.
But some of us are not the average person. Some people are like me.
I have Crohn’s Disease.
I also have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in addition to Crohn’s Disease.
What does this mean? It means that my digestive system is in a near constant state of open revolt. I can go to the washroom to have a bowel movement anyway from six to eight times a day on an average day. On a bad day, I’ve had to go to the bathroom as often as twice an hour.
Bathroom access is a matter of necessity for me.
The frequency with which I use the toilet is not even the only or the most pressing issue. The need to use the restroom is often accompanied by cramping and pain. Sometimes cramping and pain is how my body lets me know that a bathroom trip is imminent. What’s more, unlike other people’s bodies, mine doesn’t give me a lot of warning before the fireworks start to go off.
One of the struggles of living with a condition like IBS and Crohn’s, is coming to accept that you don’t have full control over your body’s waste disposal system. By this I don’t mean that things, come out on their own. What I mean is, that sometimes my body doesn’t give me enough warning to make a bathroom “search” feasible.
When I’m out in public and I feel the need to use a restroom, I know that I have a few minutes at most to find and use a restroom. If I don’t, I will have a public accident.
It’s happened before.
During a Business 101 midterm, when the building restrooms were out of order and I didn’t make it to the next one over in time. Imagine having to go up to your professor in the middle of an exam to tell him that you can’t finish, because you have to go home and change your pants.
When driving to an appointment, and I am not able to pullover and get to a public restroom in time. When I have to spend 5 or 10 minutes cleaning myself up. Washing my soiled underwear in the sink. Making sure that my pants are clean enough that I can go to my appointment commando, or finding that they are not and having to call and cancel/reschedule.
A few years ago, my building had a fire alarm in the middle of the night. I was outside in my Pajamas when the need struck. We lived close to a major bus station, but they didn’t have a public restroom. All the nearby stores were closes, and the one Tim Horton’s nearby was Drive Thru only. They wouldn’t let me use the restroom. Imagine how it must have felt at that moment.
Just this past Monday I had an accident while sitting at my computer. The pain caused by the barium that the CT technicians had made me drink earlier that day managed to mask my body’s signals letting me know that I should go to the bathroom. It wasn’t until it was already happening that I realized what was going on.
Imagine being stuck in soiled clothing, because there is no available restroom nearby.
Imagine being faced with having to take a bus home in soiled clothing.
Imagine being an adult, sitting in your own waste.
People equate bowel control with basic adult competence. Imagine what it must feel like for those of us who lack that ability. In a world where we are already told daily that we’re useless and worthless, imagine how devastating it is to have to face that while also dealing with being covered in your own shit.
Now imagine that the reason you are forced into this position is because you didn’t have a quarter?
The public transit system is already massively restrictive for many of us who struggle with disabilities. When you consider the correlation between having a disability and living in poverty this means that despite the barriers posed by OC Transpo it is the only way for many people to access the world outside their own homes.
Every time accessibility with public transit is limited, this results in more people being socially isolated.
Ignoring the obvious impact that inability to use public transit could have on economic stability and ability to meet basic needs like groceries, social isolation is also directly related to higher rates of addiction, mental illness especially depression, and so on. This means that limiting access to public transit becomes an actual public health issue.
There has already been a public campaign to increase the number of public restrooms in Ottawa, particularly in areas surrounding the transit way. Ottawa is not a small city and our transit reflects that fact, with some bus routes taking more than an hour to complete one direction. Many of the stations and major stops, are not located within easy access of public restrooms. This causes problems already for people with young children, which bowel related disabilities, seniors, and others.
It’s not even a matter of planning. It doesn’t work to just tell people to use the restroom before they leave the house, or school, or work, or whatever.
I make it a point to use the restroom before leaving the house. When your life revolves around the bathroom the way mine does, it’s just a standard precaution. Despite this however, there have been multiple occasions that within moments of exiting my buildings parking garage, I am scrambling to find the nearest public access washroom.
Many Crohn’s and IBD/IBS patients keeps a running map of nearby washrooms. We can tell you which stores nearby will let you access their restrooms with or without purchase. Which ones are more likely to be out of toilet paper, or give you some other trouble? We can’t always plan for when or how our disabilities will act up, so instead we plan for how to respond if they do.
But sometimes, we are forced out of our comfort zones. We might have doctors across the city, or maybe some of the resources we rely on don’t exist within our knowledge spheres, and so we have to risk access. Paid washrooms, make that risk even higher. Now it is not enough to simply find a washroom, now we have to also have the means to pay for it.
There are weeks where I don’t have a penny to my name. I can still go out because my bus card, or gas tank were pre-filled, but any additional expense is impossible. There are weeks where I wouldn’t be able to afford a quarter, and that’s assuming a world where most of my money doesn’t exist primarily in digital form.
There is another issue as well. As much as socially we try to dehumanize the homeless, they are human beings with human needs. Too many people who have the privilege of never having experienced homelessness, already complain about people using public spaces as restrooms. Public restrooms give people the dignity of being able to meet their bodily needs in a private space regardless of their economic status. Moreover, I trust homeless people to try and find a useable restroom, but I don’t trust white drunk frat boys.
If the city does make bathrooms along the transit way pay per use, expect to find the surrounding walls soaked with the urine of inebriated men, too impressed with their ability to pee standing up to waste time thinking about how their actions impact others.
The city needs to make Ottawa and transit more accessible, not less, and our concerns won’t be just flushed away.